If beard implants, or any other procedure of vanity or masculinity, make a man feel better about himself, who are we to judge? Athena G. Csuti explains.
When women do things like get eyelash extensions, wear lipstick, and even get breast implants it is generally accepted (even if not respected) because femininity is expected to be a cosmetic performance as well as a social one. But as soon as men show that they fall victim to a pressure to meet masculine aesthetic ideals, do they deserve to be mocked?
That’s the condescending implication of an article PolicyMic published titled “Hipsters Getting Beard Implants Are Officially Taking Things Too Far”. Victoria Kim, the author of the piece, essentially believes this procedure is just a bunch of misguided millenials too concerned with trends, and makes a throwaway comment about how transgender men also get this procedure done, without even a trace of consideration as to why trans men may opt to do it.
How Kim could publicly deride men for succumbing to the same type of stress that women struggle with every day is beyond me. If the intention was to make me laugh at the expense of others, it instead only raised a few of questions:
How is a beard implant really any different from wearing makeup, dyeing your hair, or getting a tattoo?
What is it about men getting plastic surgery that evokes this kind of ridicule?
Why is it anyone’s concern what these men are choosing to do with their own bodies?
Undeniably, beards are really ‘in’ right now. It’s not hard to find countless articles written in the last couple of years fixating on the sexiness of beards, wondering when this beard phase will pass, and analyzing the trend itself. But beards are also associated with a timeless kind of masculinity, rugged masculinity. Most fashion trends are lucky to last a few years, but throughout history there have always been periods where facial hair dominated. Facial hair is a rite of passage for teenage boys, and in the last decade or so for college aged men who want to participate in Movember. So it shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone that we’re experiencing a beard renaissance, or that facial hair or lack thereof affects men’s relationships with their own masculinity.
As a teenage girl attending an arts school dominated by my gender, I didn’t really grow up knowing much about the role facial hair played. But shortly after I graduated and met my husband I got a crash course in beards. He would talk nostalgically about No-Shave November and joke about how his friends liked to call him ‘patchy’, but occasionally there a small hint of sting to these stories. I would see firsthand the way people sometimes teased him about the fact that he could only grow a small beard with a few patches missing. While I know the jokes were never made with malicious intent, it illuminated a clear social hierarchy to me where the men who could and did have facial hair were on the top. Now that we’re both older we’re both happy with the facial hair he has. He’s much more confident and comfortable than he was at the young age of 21, and I find his unique beard to be a potent mix of adorable and seductive.
So to see an article like this hit a nerve for me. Kim demonstrates zero empathy towards the way men’s appearances are idealized and the ways that makes them feel inadequate. She doesn’t even make an effort to imagine what it is like for a man to be emasculated for something he can’t control. When was the last time a male sex symbol has been shirtless on screen without sharply defined muscles in a thin package? There’s an obvious correlation between that and the rise of eating disorders in young men.
With all the necessary focus on the way society wreaks havoc on women’s body image, people tend to overlook the fact that men are also increasingly bombarded by concepts of all the ways they’re supposedly deficient. Beard implants are just one of the many ways men are dealing with the unrealistic expectations of what it means to live their gender. This demand to meet physical ideals can be even more pronounced for transgendered men, who are expected to make surgical transitions to be considered ‘legitimate’ regardless of whether or not this is something they want.
Ultimately, whether it’s transgender or cisgender men getting beard implants, it’s really no one else’s business what they choose to do with their bodies. To assume one person’s opinion on style should carry any weight in the choices others make for themselves is absurd. Kim ends the article to reference one man who claims to be very happy with his choice, and then mocks his satisfaction by immediately stating that for “our part, we continue to weep for America”. Instead of the presumptuous and patronizing final statement, she should have opted to conclude on a positive note.
If beard implants have become an inevitable reality that makes people content with their appearance, shouldn’t we celebrate the fact that these men have the option to live their lives in a way that makes them feel good? While we need to address the social pressures in place, we also need to be able to enjoy our bodies in this world. Quite frankly, if it’s okay for me to pay someone to poke me with a needle and put a piece of metal through my skin, I don’t see why beard implants should be looked down on.
You don’t have to like beard implants. But you’re wasting your time if you think making fun of what someone else chooses to do with their body is going to accomplish anything. Instead, challenge the social structures in place that make men feel like they need to get minor surgery just to be attractive. Take the time to remind the men in your life that you love them for who they are, or learn to respect their choices and love that they are taking active steps to make themselves happy.
Not your chin, not your problem.
Photo: Flickr/Erik Starck